Welcome Back Kotter The Complete First Season
Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, John Travolta
Originally aired 1975-76
4 DVDs 22 Episodes
Warner Home Video 2007
For the many fans of seventies sitcom the 4 DVD box set of Welcome Back Kotter, The Complete First Season has been long in coming. It has been worth the wait as all twenty-two episodes of the first season are complete and uncut so you get the opening and closing jokes Gabe Kaplan tells Marcia Strassman. Welcome Back Kotter was taped, not filmed, so a couple of the opening scenes are a bit dusty. Otherwise, this situation comedy is still as enjoyable as it was when it first aired.
Unlike many other seventies situation comedy shows Welcome Back Kotter is not particularly dated aside from a couple of references to the Nixon administration. The situation, a teacher in a classroom of underachievers known as the sweathogs, is still relevant and the stories behind most shows funny and interesting. Gabe Kaplan was excellent as Kotter and got to do his many impressions, old vaudeville jokes, and even imitate most of the sweathogs during the first season. The sweathogs themselves were pretty good actors although aside from John Travolta they would all end up as where are they now celebrities.
The Welcome Back Kotter The Complete First Season sitcom DVD box set presents the episodes in their airing order so the pilot episode is third up. The 4 DVD 22 episodes box set includes one of the all-time classic Kotter episodes where Barbarino (John Travolta) decides to become a priest (Father Vinnie). Other really good shows include the one where Horshack gets promoted to normal class, Barbarino getting a tutor and a life lesson while he is at it, and the double episode where Barbarino moves in with the Kotters after being deposed as sweathog leader. In fact, Travolta gets the lion’s share of the really good episodes in Kotter Season One. Another favorite is Dr. Epstein, I Presume where one of the sweathog’s dreams is dashed by a career counselor.
I also enjoyed the Telethon episode where the sweathogs try to raise money for school supply. The musical numbers are very funny and weird and it of course becomes the Gabe Kaplan show. This show is also unfortunately prescient. The best of the best in Welcome Back Kotter the Complete First Season however is Kotter Makes Good where Kotter has to retake his high school exams. This is an occasion for the cast to do imitations of each other.
Some Welcome Back Kotter shows show the limits of the situation comedy. For example the show on DVD 3 where the sweathogs have a sit-in to protest liver. Instead of doing it in the cafeteria, the logical place, they hold it in their classroom where nobody can see it. For some reason, the class uses the occasion to discuss God. Also a bit of a letdown is the One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest episode where everybody at James Buchanan High School is out sick.
Special features include the actors’ original screen tests. This is something I have not seen on other situation comedy DVD box sets and quite interesting. Travolta is obviously “Eddie Barbarini” though Juan Hegyes also tries for the part. Other screen tests include Ron Palillo as a much more subdued Arnold Horshack, Marcia Strassman, and Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs as Washington. The other special feature is a retrospective of the show with Marcia Strassman which reveals a bit about the show’s origins.
P.S. Up you nose with a rubber hose.
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